Joshua Tabakhoff

Move on (S2020): lessons learned from my last sideprojects

2020-09-23 – 7 minutes

I say these words regularly. Why not write about it?

You may have noticed, that I don’t like to fit in a box and love moving from one environment to another even if I’m not a fan of moving from all to all but I rather prefer this than staying idle.

As this post may be a bit long, here’s a the list of topics so that you can directly go to what has a meaning for you:

  1. Life
  2. Footr
  3. ClearList
  4. Now what

Life

The last few months were really... interesting. No need to remember what went wrong in the world lately, life is really tough sometimes. Never forget all the privileges you have, give back whenever you can and help make the world a better place.

I’ve been reading Becoming Steve Jobs, which is a book I recommend even if you don’t like the man. You see all the things he went through to become the leader he has been.

My 2nd year at my college HETIC ended in late June, it was a cool year spent there with mindful people, both students and staff members. I love spending time there, the place is really motivating and push us to go higher.

I also had my first internship which is a really nice experience into the professional world. I’ve learned many things, and taught them few others.

About Footr

Back in 2017, I thought about an app that would promote local tourism. I had a little thinking about it and made the decision that a webapp or an app would be the perfect fit for it: suggest monuments around your location based on a free time parameter. It then would generate a circular walk. You can read more about it here.

After a really nice Product Hunt launch (pro tip: don’t launch publicly when your hosting provider is doing a planned maintenance 🙃 ), with few anecdotes I should be sharing one day around a coffee if we meet, I was not seeing all the issues that might be existing.

The most obvious one was the UX, what a mess to have to sign up for this! I was thinking from the developer side and not the user side anymore at some point while building it. Moreover, when I came back to the user-side of the product, I’ve seen how hard it was to keep the benefits of actual walks when using it: having to use a defined, imposed path over a free path was the opposite concept of the problem I tried to solve.

How have I tried to fix it?

At first, I did nothing.

I thought “well it’s over, the product is done, now let’s wait and see where it goes by itself”. After months, I was demotivated. It was going nowhere. I was a bit disappointed but mostly careless, I was focused on something else now and Walk was secondary.

Then, I thought of by-products, which are derivate products with the same idea but for a different use case. The idea was Placeez, a real-time shared walk to meet new people. Hard to think today in a coronavirus-related environment but back then, it had more sense.

Based on my motivation I knew it would go nowhere as it needed some technical aspect of a real-time secured place. So I thought: what about Walk but for going from A to B by car? Planning some kind of road trip. It was logical: each year, I go on holidays in the south of France and we cross a well known bridge called Viaduc de Millau, there may be other really cool things to see when going there?

Nothing went anywhere.

I preferred walking in Paris and seeing where it drives me instead of a predefined path. I was not motivated by the idea anymore.

As a last run up, I rebranded Walk into Footr (better to be discovered in app stores and on search engines) and wanted to make it Walk 2.0, Walk Nearby. Rebuild everything from the ground up, no more friction. Just insights. Walk, go where you want to go and if we detect a cool monument nearby, we send you a notification to tell you “turn right, here it is”.

Postmortem

At my college, the story made some noise as two other students built a similar app, it was both frustrating and motivating. Back then, this felt like the Facebook story. I know I haven’t reacted/acted correctly with them and I’m now trying to behave better with them. Congrats to their work, they’ve done something great and they are now working each on their own path which is really driving them in a cool place!

In this area, there are many competitors but nobody had this search engine approach we had (crowd-sourcing data to make it more powerful and reliable).

I should’ve stopped earlier if I were honest with myself and acknowledged that I was not motivated anymore.

I wanted a dead-simple app with not too much options for the user (I still think too much options is showing your lack of decision as a product owner) but my first vision deviated into something too different from my needs, and so for the market too. I ended forgetting the user part for a developer easy-take path.

When I’ve seen many reactions on my Product Hunt launch (#5 Product of the Day, up to #3) and in my KPIs (740 downloads, 308 sign ups within the first 2 months (this feature has been deleted after), 1200 walks created), I’ve hesitated between continuing or stopping. Was it the correct KPIs? Real feedback?

Adding features as a way to gain traction is a weak product management strategy. First find your market, make the product useful, pivot if needed, rewrite from the ground up if you’re motivated but don’t add 20+ features if your core feature is not what people are looking for.

I’ve learned many things, from preparing a launch to listening to more real feedback and testing the product as a user point of view (don’t lose this!)

About ClearList

I started ClearList in 2018 as a way to learn Node.js by myself and get more autonomous with it.

It was few months before I get into HETIC college as a freshman and I needed a relaxing side-project from the main one.

In summer 2019, I implemented Stripe as a way to make ClearList my first paid product (at least to cover costs, nothing more), bought a domain name and then launched on Product Hunt.

This one went well, no downtime as it was hosted on Heroku. It went so well that the free tier of the database provider was not enough and I received many emails noticing me the database writing were disabled. I did the database migration from my phone, in Spain as I was having a day off-site for holidays.

The product was not meant to last. I had no product evolution strategy, it was all about: put your links, set your schedule and boom. People made feedback, so I implemented Pocket and other little features such as reschedule.

I’ve learned how to use environment variables and GitHub Actions for Continuous Deployment. The whole project is open-source, you can have a look!

Now what?

Many updates on this post! It’s been a while since my last post. I should also update my website as it’s full of old informations.

Now, I’m looking for more human in my work. I love to work alone and rely on myself only (better for deadline for instance) but I need more interaction. I don’t want to be seen as the developer only. Now after my internship, I’m sure that being behind a screen all day long is not what I want. I need human, I need interaction, I need to know more and do more!

I’ve started thinking about a new project, called Internland which you can follow on Twitter. I’ve nothing to share about it for now, still doing research about how it could work. Stay tuned!

In October it will be time to go back to school, I’ve worked on different projects related to my college and I’m impatient to know how people will react to them. Everybody involved in these projects are kind and motivated people I love to work with.

I won't find my way 'cause I’m 'bout to rebuild it — Riles